Legal Terms C – D

Legal Term C - Dcase file — a complete collection of every document in a case.

case law — the law as laid down in the decisions of the courts; the law in cases that have been decided. Compare with statute.

case management — techniques used to process cases from one stage of the proceeding to another, such as setting deadlines for discovery or scheduling a series of pretrial conferences. Case management calls for different approaches from one case to the next and is the primary responsibility of judges, assisted by lawyers and clerks’ office personnel.

case trustee — in bankruptcy, a person, often a lawyer or accountant, hired to preside over liquidation of the debtor’s estate. The case trustee collects and sells the debtor’s nonexempt property and distributes the proceeds to creditors, and he or she pursues legal claims on behalf of the debtor for purposes of getting as much money for the estate as possible.

challenge for cause — a lawyer’s attempt to prevent a prospective juror from sitting on a jury because, in the lawyer’s view, the juror’s answers to voir dire questions suggest that he or she cannot approach the case impartially. If the judge agrees with the lawyer, the judge will then strike (excuse) the prospective juror for cause. Compare with peremptory challenge.

chambers — the offices of a judge.

chief judge — the judge who has primary responsibility for the administration of a court, but also decides cases. Chief appellate judges and chief district judges take office according to rules regarding age and seniority; chief bankruptcy judges are appointed by the district judges of the court. Compare with Chief Justice.

Chief Justice — the “first among equals” on the U.S. Supreme Court, who has numerous responsibilities for the administration of the federal judicial system as well as for hearing cases. The President appoints the Chief Justice, with approval of the Senate, when a vacancy occurs in the office.

circuit — the regional unit of federal judicial appeals. Congress has divided the federal judicial system into twelve regional circuits (the eleven numbered circuits and the District of Columbia Circuit). In each circuit is a court of appeals to hear appeals from district courts in the circuit, and a circuit judicial council to oversee the administration of the courts of the circuit. See also district.

circuit court — an informal name for a U.S. court of appeals (also the name of some state trial courts).

circuit executive — a federal court employee appointed by a circuit judicial council to assist the chief judge of the circuit and provide administrative support to the courts of the circuit.

circuit judge — an informal name for a U.S. court of appeals judge.

circuit judicial council — a governing body in each federal circuit created by Congress to ensure the effective and expeditious administration of justice in that circuit. Each council has an equal number of circuit and district court judges; the chief judge of the circuit is the presiding officer.

civil case — a lawsuit brought by a party (the plaintiff) against another party (the defendant) claiming that the defendant failed to carry out a legal duty owed to the plaintiff and that the defendant’s breach of duty caused financial or personal injury to the plaintiff. Usually, the purpose of bringing the case is to get a court order for the defendant to pay for damages suffered by the plaintiff.

class action — a lawsuit in which one or more members of a large group, or “class,” of individuals or other entities sue as “representative parties” on behalf of the entire class. There must be questions of law or fact common to the class, and the district court must agree to “certify the class,” thus allowing the action to proceed as a class action.

clerk of court — an officer appointed by the court to work with the chief judge and other judges in overseeing the court’s administration, especially to assist in managing the flow of cases through the court.

closing arguments — after all the evidence has been presented in a trial, lawyers’ presentations summarizing the evidence and attempting to persuade the jury to draw conclusions favorable to their clients. Closing arguments, like opening statements, are not themselves evidence.

community defender organization — a nonprofit defense counsel service organized by a group of lawyers in private practice and authorized by the district court to represent criminal defendants in court who cannot afford to pay for their defense. Compare with federal public defender organization.

complaint — a written statement by the person (called the “plaintiff”) starting a civil lawsuit which details the wrongs allegedly committed against that person by another person (called the “defendant”).

concurring opinion — see opinion.

condition — a court-imposed requirement that a defendant or offender must abide by in order to remain under community supervision by a pretrial services or probation officer, as an alternative to imprisonment. For example, refraining from use of illegal drugs is a mandatory condition for everyone under federal supervision; a person who is known to have used illegal drugs in the past may also have regular drug testing as a condition.

confirmation hearing — (1) in bankruptcy, the court proceeding at which the judge determines whether a debtor’s plan of reorganization meets the requirements of the Bankruptcy Code, whether creditors have accepted or rejected the plan, and whether to confirm the plan as presented. (2) the hearing in which Senate Judiciary Committee members question persons nominated by the President to be federal judges.

Constitution — see U.S. Constitution.

contested matter — in bankruptcy, a method of handling disputes that may arise during the course of a case. Contested matters are initiated by motion and generally do not require a filing fee. The Bankruptcy Rules establish the types of disputes that are handled as contested matters. Compare with adversary proceeding.

contract — an agreement between two or more persons that creates an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing.

convert — in bankruptcy, to change a case to another type of proceeding; for example, if creditors initiate a filing under Chapter 7, the debtor may convert the case to Chapter 11.

counsel — a lawyer or a team of lawyers. The term is often used during a trial to refer to lawyers in a case.

count — an allegation in an indictment charging a defendant with a crime. An indictment may contain allegations that the defendant has committed more than one crime. The separate allegations are referred to as the counts of the indictment.

counterclaim — a claim filed by a defendant against the plaintiff in response to the plaintiff’s original suit. The defendant becomes the counterclaim plaintiff in the case, and the plaintiff becomes the counterclaim defendant (in addition to their being defendant and plaintiff).

court — an agency of government authorized to resolve legal disputes. Judges and lawyers sometimes use the term court to refer to the judge, as in “the court has read the pleadings.”

court of appeals — see U.S. court of appeals.

court of appeals judge — see U.S. court of appeals judge.

court interpreter — a court employee who orally translates what is said in court from English into the language of a non-English-speaking party or witness and translates that person’s testimony into English.

court reporter — a person who makes a word-for-word record of what is said in a court proceeding and produces a transcript of the proceeding on request.

courtroom deputy clerk — a court employee who assists the judge by keeping track of witnesses, evidence, and other trial matters, and sometimes by scheduling cases.

cramdown — in bankruptcy, court confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan despite the opposition of certain creditors.

creditor — any person, business, or other entity, such as a government agency, to whom a debtor owes money. In bankruptcy, creditors usually receive a reduced amount because the debtor is unable to pay the full amount owed.

criminal case — a case prosecuted by the government, on behalf of society at large, against an individual or organization accused of committing a crime. If the defendant is found guilty, the sentence (or punishment) is often imprisonment.

Criminal Justice Act (CJA) — a federal statute designed to implement the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal cases by providing court-appointed attorneys to represent defendants who cannot afford to pay for an attorney’s services. Some district courts order these defendants to pay to the court at a later date the amount of money it has spent in providing the defendant with a lawyer. Reimbursement may be made a term of the judgment at sentencing, or a condition of probation or supervised release.

criminal record — a record listing a defendant’s previous arrests and convictions. A copy of the defendant’s criminal record, if any, must be given to the defense upon request during discovery.

cross-claim — in a case with more than one defendant, a claim filed by one defendant (the “cross-claim plaintiff”) against another (the “cross-claim defendant”). A cross-claim may allege that any injury to the plaintiff was caused by the cross-claim defendant, who should pay any damages to which the plaintiff is entitled, and/or it may allege a separate but related injury to the cross-claim plaintiff caused by the cross-claim defendant.

cross-examination — questions directed to a witness by a lawyer for any other party, after the direct examination of the witness. The questions focus on matters the witness testified to during direct examination and may be designed to test the witness’s credibility. Leading questions (those which suggest, by their wording, how the attorney would like the witness to answer) may be asked on cross-examination. Compare with direct examination.

damages — money that a defendant pays a plaintiff in a civil case that the plaintiff has won, to compensate the plaintiff for loss or injury.

deadlocked jury — a jury that is unable to agree upon a verdict (also called a hung jury). A deadlocked jury results in a mistrial.

debtor — a person or business that owes money to another person or business. In bankruptcy, the debtor usually repays a reduced amount because of inability to pay the full amount owed.

debtor-in-possession (DIP) — in bankruptcy, the manager of a debtor business in a Chapter 11 reorganization that continues to operate and control the business after the bankruptcy petition is filed unless the court orders otherwise.

default judgment — a judgment against the defendant awarding the plaintiff the relief demanded in the complaint because of the defendant’s failure to appear in court. A summons must notify the defendant that failure to appear and defend against the lawsuit in a timely manner will result in the court’s entry of a default judgment.

defendant — (1) in a civil suit, the person complained against; (2) in a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

deposition — a frequently used means of obtaining discovery in civil cases, in which the attorney who requested the deposition questions a party, witness, or any person with information about the case, and the person (the deponent) answers under oath.

deputy clerk — see courtroom deputy clerk.

detention hearing — under the Bail Reform Act, a hearing that may be held in a case involving a defendant who is charged with a serious felony or whose record indicates that he or she may flee or pose a serious risk of danger to the community if released prior to trial. If, after an evidentiary hearing, the magistrate judge who conducts the hearing finds that no pretrial release conditions will reasonably ensure the appearance of the defendant in court, the safety of the community, or the safety of another person, the magistrate judge may order the defendant detained without bail pending trial.

direct examination — the initial questioning of any witness by the attorney who calls the witness to the stand, to bring out evidence for the fact finder (judge or jury). Compare with cross-examination.

discharge — (1) the payment of a debt or satisfaction of some other obligation; (2) in bankruptcy, a legal device that releases a debtor from monetary obligations; it prevents creditors from trying to collect prebankruptcy debts from a debtor after a bankruptcy proceeding is over.

disclosure statement — in bankruptcy, a statement that gives Chapter 11 creditors information to use in deciding whether to vote to accept or reject a debtor’s plan of reorganization.

discovery — (1) in a civil case, pretrial procedures by which the lawyers representing the parties try to learn as much as they can about their opponents’ cases by examining the witnesses, physical evidence, and other information that make up the case; (2) in a criminal case, a meeting of the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor in which the defendant’s attorney requests disclosure of certain types of evidence against the defendant. The government may then make a discovery request of the defendant.

discovery plan — a plan developed at a prediscovery meeting by the parties in a civil case (or their lawyers) and filed with the court. This plan is required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure except in cases exempted by a local rule or court order. The parties discuss their claims and defenses, explore possibilities for settlement, and make or arrange for the disclosures required by the rules.

dissent — see opinion.

district — a geographic region over which a particular U.S. district court has jurisdiction. Congress has divided the country into districts to organize the administration of justice. See also circuit.

district court — see U.S. district court.

district judge — see U.S. district judge.

diversity jurisdiction — the federal district courts’ authority to hear and decide civil cases involving plaintiffs and defendants who are citizens of different states (or U.S. citizens and foreign nationals) and who meet certain statutory requirements.

docket — a list of court proceedings and filings in chronological order.